Seraphim Trio

Friday, 29 June 2018 at 8pm

Helen Ayres (violin), Anna Goldsworthy (piano), Tim Nankervis (‘cello)


This concert is now over. You can read about the concert in our Thank You Seraphim Trio news item 



Mozart                       Trio in G major for piano, violin and 'cello,  K 496

Schumann                  Piano trio no 1 in D minor, op 63

Ravel                         Piano trio in A minor, M 67

About the Artists

The Seraphim Trio is one of Australia’s pre-eminent piano trios. Over their twenty two years together, the members of the Seraphim Trio - Helen Ayres (violin), Anna Goldsworthy (piano) and Timothy Nankervis (‘cello) - have established a reputation for performing with finesse and impeccable quality.  They are well know to Australian audiences through their concert series, radio broadcasts, recordings and solo appearances. Read more.

Programme Notes

The Seraphim Trio's programme showcases the different musical worlds that the piano trio can create. Mozart’s trio is one of the first great Classical piano trios; the voices of piano, violin and ‘cello have equal prominence, elegantly intertwined in graceful harmonies. Schumann’s piano trio has a Classical piano trio form, invested with an intensely personal character, filled with complex and conflicting emotions building to a glorious ending. Ravel’s piano trio is beautifully crafted in the Classical form, enriched with the freshness of exotic melodies, surprising rhythms and vibrant tone colours.

MOZART  Trio in G major for violin, 'cello and piano, K 496

Allegro / Andante / Allegretto

Mozart composed his Piano Trio in G major in 1786. It is the first true Piano Trio in which keyboard, ‘cello and violin have equal prominence.  While Mozart may have had the inspiration and imagination to create a new chamber music form, his genius was to exploit and respond to factors at work in 1786 to make the Piano Trio such a successful and lasting innovation.

The most important factor was the development of the pianoforte, the forerunner of the modern piano.  Prior to the late eighteenth century, keyboard compositions were composed for the “weaker” harpsichord; strings were constrained to re-enforce and accompany the keyboard and not overwhelm it. With the more powerful dynamics and stronger registers of the pianoforte, Mozart was free to create a new sound world that treated each instrument as a strong unique voice. He deftly exploited the registers and tonal textures of keyboard, violin and 'cello to create independent virtuoso passages. Another factor in the Piano Trio’s success was the growth in popularity of public concerts. Mozart knew his audience; they appreciated (and paid for) music that was new, surprising and virtuosic.  Mozart also exploited his own great talent and experience in opera compositions; he brought an operatic sensibility to the Piano Trio intertwining the unique voices of keyboard, violin and ‘cello in beautiful and quite natural dialogues.

The Trio's first movement is in sonata form and begins with the gradual unfolding of a graceful theme from the piano alone before the violin joins the dialogue. The development section brings all instruments together with a burst of fortissimo energy. There is a lovely fluidity and freedom in the ‘cello part.

The second movement is elegant and majestic, with opera-like duets between the ‘cello and violin as they respond to the piano accompaniment. The movement ends with a joyous flourish.

The Allegretto movement is a set of variations on a charming theme. The first three variations are in G Major – Mozart’s key for idyllic lyrical melodies. They give prominence to the piano and violin in bright, sunny exchanges. In the fourth variation the key change to G minor brings a more serious almost unsettled feel to the music as the ‘cello plays with an exquisite depth of feeling. For the fifth variation, now in G major, the violin and piano return with more delightful exchanges. 

The variations finish with an exuberant coda in which piano, ‘cello and violin blend in dazzling counterpoint. As much as the Piano Trio is innovative and points to the future, the coda is a momentary return to the rich textures and complexity of Baroque counterpoint. Mozart and his Piano Trio are timeless.

                                                                                                                         C. B.

SCHUMANN Piano trio no 1 in D minor, op 63

Mit Energie und Leidenschaft / Lebhaft, doch nicht zu rasch / Langsam, mit inniger Empfindung / Mit Feuer

The D minor trio is the first and generally regarded as the strongest work of the three complete piano trios composed by Robert Schumann. He records in his diaries in early June 1847 having “trio thoughts” and completely sketched the D minor trio in just 10 days. The second trio Op. 80 was completed in the same year and the third Op. 110 in 1851.

Choosing the key of D minor for his first composition for the genre suggests Schumann’s homage to Mendelssohn’s Trio Op. 49 written eight years earlier, which he had praised highly. The impetus however for embarking on the piano trio may well have been the completion and successful reception the previous year of his wife Clara’s Piano Trio in G minor Op. 17.

The two 1847 trios Op. 63 and Op. 80 demonstrate a new direction in Schumann’s chamber music introducing a new kind of expressiveness and drawing on his study in these years of J S Bach’s contrapuntal writing. Generally Schumann’s chamber works are piano driven with the strings following or acting in opposition to the keyboard.

The first movement was described by Clara as “one of the loveliest I know”.  Marked “With energy and passion” it opens in Sturm und Drang style with the piano outlining the harmony in rapid arpeggios. The melody of the second more tender subject is traced by the piano and strings and the closing section returns to the first theme rhythmically changed in F major.

The second movement marked “Lively, but not too fast” has been described by musicologist and composer John Palmer as showing “constrained energy”. The piano part supports a rising dotted rhythm of the melody played in the strings, continuing in the trio section and descending in a slower, more relaxed manner to its conclusion.

The slow movement, to be played “with inner feeling”, is a ternary structure of wandering, lyrical harmonies first taken up by the violin, similar to the violin theme of the first movement. In the middle section the violin and cello dominate and after a brief return to the first section the movement moves through melodic changes ending in a powerful chord in D minor.

The Finale, marked “With fire”, begins without a break and has the feel of Beethoven’s characteristic energy. The movement is thematically linked to the first movement as it ebbs and flows to a vibrant conclusion.

                                                                                                                            R. C.


RAVEL Piano trio in A minor, M 67 

Modéré / Pantoum. Assez vif / Passacaille. Très large / Finale. Animé

Maurice Ravel was one of the foremost French composers of the early twentieth century. Igor Stravinsky likened him to a “Swiss clockmaker” – a composer who followed classical forms with meticulously worked balance and proportion. He moved away from the dark angst-ridden world of French Romantic music to create a light-filled, magical other-worldly atmosphere in his works. Much like contemporary impressionist painters he captured fleeting moments and enigmatic ideas in evanescent sounds. He was also an internationalist, inspired by the art, music and literature of his own Basque heritage and the cultures of distant countries. 

Ravel completed his piano trio M 67 in September1914, although he was thought to have worked on it for some time previously. He wrote to his student Maurice Delage about the challenge of creating rich harmonies and texture in the trio to give each instrument true equality and virtuoso prominence. The outbreak of the First World War created an urgent need for Ravel to finish the Trio. He worked incessantly for five weeks to complete the Trio, before joining the French Army and being rushed to the front as a medical orderly.  The first public performance of the Trio was in 1915. Against the backdrop of war, it received little public or critical attention. It has since come to be recognised as a masterpiece.  

The first movement is in Sonata Allegro form. With quiet tones and gently undulating rhythms the piano announces the first theme, which is based on a Basque folk dance. The second theme is passionate and dramatic. Their development has a calming and ethereal quality.  The recapitulation is enthralling with the main theme taken by the piano, overlaid by the strings playing the second theme, as the movement fades. 

The second movement is a spirited Scherzo and Trio. Its title refers to a Malay verse form, called a Pantoum, in which the 2nd and 4th lines from each stanza are repeated in the next stanza in different positions and given different shades of meaning. In a similar way, themes are repeated in the Scherzo. - one with irregular jagged rhythms, the other smooth and flowing. A Trio follows the Scherzo repeating varying its themes with great energy and with complex harmonies.  Describing this movement, Mark De Voto in “The Cambridge Companion to Ravel” wrote “Only rarely in later years would his inspiration be so intense and simultaneously so fearless.”  

The third movement is a Passacaglia, a Baroque form in which a bass line is repeated while variations and ornamentation play above it. The effect is majestic as the bass line builds to a powerfully sustained climax before dying away.  There is great mastery in the way Ravel combines the discipline and control of the repeating bass line with the flowing rhythms and harmonies of the variations above it.  

The final movement seethes with dramatic intensity, Ravel’s response perhaps to the war around him and his coming war service. It is in Sonata Allegro form.  It begins with the brittle fragility of simple themes that are quickly developed with a powerful emotional force. An extraordinary coda ends the work with furious trills and tremolos from the strings and pounding chords from the piano that come together with an electrifying strength. 

                                                                                                                          C. B.